Teaching with the Sources: Presenting a New Interactive Database in the History of Science in Latin America and the Caribbean

Teaching with the Sources: Presenting a New Interactive Database in the History of Science in Latin America and the Caribbean
Julia Rodriguez, University of New Hampshire
January 2009

At the CLAH Roundtable on Teaching I introduced, along with my former graduate student Cameron Strang (now a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas) a web-based collection of primary sources in the history of science, medicine, and technology in Latin America and the Caribbean. This electronic database, called HOSLAC (History of Science in Latin America and the Caribbean), is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. While the official publication date for the website is August 2009, a “beta” version of the website is available now to the public (www.hoslac.org), with the caveat that the database is still undergoing revisions.

HOSLAC is organized into 30 Topics, such as Aztec agriculture; exploration and navigation; Humboldt and America; and tropical medicine. It provides over 230 digitized primary sources, ranging from pre-Columbian times to the modern day for teaching and research. Using the latest new media tools, the shell consolidates sources from all media types (images, text, audio, video) into a single, seamless interface. These sources include historic maps; photographs of pre-Columbian tools and artifacts such as the Inca quipu (knotted strings that served as writing and accounting systems); photographs of individual scientists, scientific institutions, and universities; and excerpted translations of texts such as Darwin’s descriptions of Latin American flora and fauna. The sources are accompanied by texts, based on recent scholarship, that places them in historical, political, and social context.

When complete, it is our hope that HOSLAC will be of use in a variety of classes, including Latin American history; Atlantic history; the history of science and medicine; and the history of technology. It will be valuable as a tool for lectures, to illustrate a point or argument, and/or as a learning device for students for in-class discussion or written assignments. Sources can be projected in class via internet access, or downloaded as powerpoint slides. Students can also be directed to specific Topics and/or sources as part of class reading. For advanced students, faculty can use the database to introduce students to historical research methods, source analysis, and thesis development as part of their research papers or theses.